For as long as there has been ASCII, there have been electronic books, but every attempt to make eBooks into a commercial product with mass-market appeal has been a disappointment. However, new sales figures from the Open eBook Forum point to a 46% rise in eBook revenues in the first quarter of this year.
Additionally, Forum President Steve Potash claims that “eBooks represent the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry.”
Sadly, the titles that are shifting are not the forward-looking science, philosophy literary masterpieces I’d hoped for: Dan Brown’s nonsense numerology pot boiler The Da Vinci Code leads the bestseller chart, followed by Van Helsing by Kevin Ryan at number two.
Figures are still modest: 421,955 eBooks were sold in Q1 2004, compared to 288,440 for the same period last year. This translates into US$3.2 million (€2.6 million) in revenue, opposed to US$2.5 million (€2 million) for Q1 2003.
The market is still dogged with issues: competing formats, lacklustre content, over-priced products and expensive reading devices. People still prefer reading printed books, but the sheer convenience of being able to carry a number of titles for consulting at will has prompted people to experiment in the format. There’s still no “killer application” for eBooks (like iTunes was to the iPod), and certainly no “system seller” (for example, the Matrix DVD prompted many thousands of people to buy a DVD player), and there possibly never will, but we hope that this important media format gets the attention it deserves.